Thursday, May 22, 2014

Is the internet more likely to accelerate change—or dissipate outrage?

“Real change doesn't start with the introduction of legislation. Instead, it starts years earlier when a visionary group frames a problem, advances research, and formulates possible solutions—and then keeps on pushing the issues into the public arena. Without those years of hard work from Demos, the [Credit CARD Act] would never have been conceived, much less made it into law.” 

Senator Elizabeth Warren

CARD Act signing in 2009—which so far has been estimated to have saved consumers over $50 billion in fees alone.

OF COURSE THE INTERNET WILL SUPPORT CHANGE. For a time I accepted the general view that the internet—and social media in particular—would accelerate change. Why so?

  • It is a uniquely powerful global way of communicating and searching. It is an extraordinary and unprecedented global, and near instant, resource.
  • We would have more access to the facts.
  • We would be able to agitate and organize more effectively.
  • We would be able to present more cogent arguments in a vastly more visually persuasive way (thanks to all the low-cost, yet powerful, graphic tools available via the internet)..

Yet here we are—with all kinds of disturbing things happening, and most of the trend lines going the wrong way—and there there is scant evidence of outrage. On the contrary, by and large, people—while many may well be privately worried sick—profess to be reasonably (given the circumstances) content.  Certainly, there is no feeling of mass outrage (of the kind that is strong enough to overcome the inertia of the status quo).

DISTURBING THINGS. What do I mean by “disturbing things?” Here are some examples. The list could be a great deal (pages—perhaps chapters) longer. We bury ourselves in distraction—much of it, ironically, being internet based—but meanwhile Rome burns.

  • The fact that the earning power of most Americans is in decline.
  • The fact that the Middle Class is being steadily squeezed into oblivion.
  • The fact that we are no longer a genuine representative democracy.
  • The fact that we have a truly lousy and expensive healthcare system whose costs are increasing—even now—significantly faster than inflation. This system works pretty well for the rich—and crucifies the less well off.
  • The fact that Americans die several years sooner than the citizens of other developed nations.
  • The fact that we not only imprison vastly more of our citizens than other developed nations, but we also treat many of them badly while in custody—and then make it near impossible for them to get a job when they get out.
  • The fact that nearly half our unemployed are so despairing that they have given up even looking.
  • The fact that Congress, large thanks to the intransigence of the Republican Party, is gridlocked.
  • The fact that a whole series of issues of vital importance—from climate change to the quality of our food chain (highly suspect) is not even being addressed. We are being poisoned—and we are are being complicit—in our own premature deaths.

THE INTERNET SEEMS TO DISSAPATE OUTRAGE. Though the internet still seems to me to have the potential to be a force for change—and doubtless is enabling it in some sectors—I’m increasingly of the view that the internet acts as a sort of outrage shock-absorber, and may even be stopping more effective action—such as meeting up physically—from taking place.

Do I know that for sure? No, I have no hard data to back this up. I’m merely looking at the issues—and the relative lack of overt indignation—and wondering.

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